For director Pawan Kumar, life is categorised before and after ‘Lucia’, a film that came out of nowhere in 2013 and attained cult status. The film is also widely believed to have kickstarted the ‘new wave’ in the Kannada film industry.
Given that, it comes as no surprise when you learn that Pawan Kumar named his daughter Lucia.
“I think I will always be associated with this film. Even after 10 years, every time I meet some new talent, there are invariably questions about it. Sometimes it surprises me that I still get this sort of attention for the film even after a decade,” says Pawan Kumar.
So influential ‘Lucia’ was, that when it had a limited release in select theatres of Bengaluru, Mysore and Mangalore, for nearly a week in mid-September to celebrate its 10th anniversary, it drew hardcore fans all over again.
“We were thrilled to be able to get another theatrical release amid many big films being released at the same time. And it was a very satisfying moment to see it again with the audience because it's been so long that I have forgotten how we made it and why we made it. So, it was a great experience to see the film with others and understand why it has been so special for people,” says Pawan Kumar.
Before ‘Lucia’ was ‘Lifeu Ishtene’ (2011), his debut as director, a dark comedy that managed to win the hearts of both the critics and the audience. What followed ‘Lucia’ was another winner in ‘U-Turn’ in 2016. A film with a strong social message that could have easily turned preachy if not for the pithy script.
Following its success in Kannada, ‘U-Turn’ was remade in Tamil and Telugu in 2018, with Samantha Ruth Prabhu playing the lead, and in Hindi this year with Alaya F playing the lead. While Pawan directed the Tamil and Telugu version, Hindi rights were sold to Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms.
Perhaps it was the confidence gained from directing in languages not familiar with, Pawan said when he was approached for directing ‘Dhoomam’ in Malayalam, released in theatres in July, he did not need much convincing. That Fahadh Faasil would be playing the lead, sealed the deal for him.
But unfortunately, despite being eagerly awaited by both his and Faasil’s fans, the film could not create ripples in box-office.
Pawan Kumar admits that somewhere the audience felt a disconnect, especially with the dialogues. “Language posed a bigger problem than I had imagined. I couldn’t judge the way the dialogues sounded as I could with Kannada,” says Pawan Kumar.
The film was a setback, but Pawan Kumar has already taken it in his stride. “When I started, I did want to make films for all the audience, but I realised soon that it was an impossible task. These days, I am happy if what I make resonates with a good chunk of the audience.”
Irrespective of box-office numbers, Pawan Kumar says he will keep tackling socio-economic and political issues that he identifies the most with through his films. For instance, U-Turn is about obeying traffic rules and ‘Dhoomam’ about the evils of tobacco consumption.
“As I have a clear idea about what I want to talk about, what is working with the audience doesn’t really matter. At most, it serves as a kind of check to understand what they want. But I may not necessarily want to give them that,” says Pawan Kumar.
According to him, his personal life has a bigger role to play than trending topics in why he chooses to explore something. “For instance, these days my daughter has an effect on how I want to take my filmmaking forward,” says Pawan Kumar.
The more you speak to Pawan, the more you realise that he yearns for ‘Lucia’ days and not just because the film put him in the spotlight. Things were a lot simpler then, he tells you wistfully. “Making your film reach the audience has become very complicated now,” says Pawan Kumar.
“I cannot imagine making a ‘Lucia’ now. Our total budget was only Rs 50 lakh, which we raised by crowdfunding. These days, just to market the film we have to spend three times that,” he adds.
But time has also been of great help, he says, to come to terms with certain things about the industry. “I used to blame the producers for not backing quality content. But I get them now. At the end of the day, it’s a business and they want their money back. So, if the audience is demanding something, they are bound to give it to them," says Pawan Kumar.
As for his kind of films, things are not very bleak either, he says. “With many more unconventional platforms available, success of a film at box-office is not as important as earlier. Quality content quietly goes about winning hearts,” says Pawan Kumar.